CANNON MONTH 2: Straw Dogs (1971)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Straw Dogs was not produced by Cannon. It was, however, released on video in Germany by Cannon Screen Entertainment.

I know they made a remake of Straw Dogs in 2011, but there’s no way I can imagine people not being beyond upset with this movie. The violence probably wouldn’t upset all that many people, but the two graphic assaults of Susan George — much less the quick flash that she may not have been all that upset by the first — would be greeted by a procession of anger the likes of which no movie made today would be able to create. I mean, would director Sam Peckinpah have been able to make movies in today’s world? One could argue that he struggled to do it in the 70s.

Based on The Siege of Trencher’s Farm by Gordon M. Williams and written by David Zelag Goodman and Peckinpah, the story begins with David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) moving his wife Amy (George) back to her hometown of Wakely. Her ex, Charlie Venner (Del Henney), has a gang of horrible townsfolk like Norman Scutt (Ken Hutchison), Chris Cawsey (Jim Norton) and Phil Riddawa (Donald Webster) and each of them resents the meek academic American making love to one of their own.

David and Amy have moved into her father’s house, Trenchers Farm, and hired the four men to fix it up. As the house improves, their marriage falls apart, as she claims he left America because he was a coward afraid of conflict and that he treats her in a condescending manner. He withdraws into his study of stellar structures while she teases the workmen with her body.

Despite the men killing their cat, David still goes hunting with them. They pull the snipe hunting trick and abandon him, heading back to his home so that Venner can attack his wife. That coupling seems a bit too much like lovemaking by the end and as she holds her ex-lover, Scutt comes in with a gun and forces Venner to hold her down. By the time David returns, Amy says nothing.

The next day, David fires the men and Amy has a breakdown in church when she sees them. Things get worse — a local boy named Henry Niles (David Warner) ends up being seduced by a relative of Venner named Janice Hedden (Sally Thomsett). When the men chase them down, he accidentally kills her and goes on the run. After David accidentally hits him with his car, he takes the boy home, which brings the foursome back to begin invading the home.

Then David says, “I will not allow violence against this house.”

What follows is a Hoffman descending into the kind of barbaric behavior one expects in a Stanley Peckinpah movie.

Straw Dogs is older than I am and still packs such infernal power. We see ourselves cheering for David to finally rise up, but is too much well, too much? I guess not from the same man who made The Wild Bunch. I’ve been thinking this film over and over in my head and trying to figure out how I feel about it. It’s not ambivalence. I’m just seeking an answer.

One thought on “CANNON MONTH 2: Straw Dogs (1971)

  1. A book I read from the library (I forget the name) quoted that Peckinpah was upset that “no one figured out Dustin Hoffman was the villain” i.e. that he comes in there an entitles snobby prick (witness is weirding out the visiting locals by playing loud Scottish marches, or whatever – it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it) and eventually his decision to protect a pedophile child murderer backfires as David Warner tries to assault his own wife. All through the film you get exampled of Dustin’s elitism against the insular locals, refusing to adhere to a single one of their rules, treating them not unlike the British would treat the Aboriginals in Australia. By the end Dustin is transformed by the violence into the sociopath he always really was, even smacking around his own wife when she tries to stop him (Dustin is great in that moment, he really does seem changed). It’s the ‘other’ 1971 movie capturing dehumanizing, empathy-erasing effect of ultra-violence. There wouldn’t be another quite like it til Cronenberg’s HISTORY OF ….

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